Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blogrolling: National Interests

Instead of imitating our betters and faffing about in central Asia, perhaps we might venture over to Defense and Freedom and talk about the larger questions of:

1. What are "national interests"?

2. How do nations define them? How does the U.S., circa 2010, define them?

3. Is the U.S. doing a good job of defining these, and, once defined, a good job of addressing them?

Sound like a topic worth kicking about.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Charlie Wilson's War, or, Chain of Fools

No. The enemy of our enemy is NOT our friend. He is our enemy's enemy, and we use his enmity at our peril. Like a double-bitted axe, we cannot be sure where his whetted edge will come to rest, and it may well be in our own neck.

And to forget this, even for a moment, is to make ourselves fools in a world where the only truly capital crime is stupidity.
"It is time U.S. foreign policy took a more realistic view of the world and stop assuming political necessity must yield strange bedfellows. This would enable our military to get back into the business of protecting our nation from existential threats to our security and winning our nation’s wars; not waste blood and treasure in misadventures in nation building or securing non vital national interests. Finally, it is interesting to note that the reason the Soviets intervened militarily in Afghanistan in 1979 is the exact same reason we are intervening now: to secure the sitting government from Islamic insurgents."
Go, read it. It will make you laugh, or weep, or both. Hunter Thompson said "No man is so foolish but he may sometimes give another good counsel, and no man so wise that he may not easily err if he takes no other counsel than his own. He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master."

We're now paying for the fact that Charlie Wilson taught himself everything he knew about Afghanistan.

(Cross-posted from GFT)

Your Tax Dollars At Work!

Good to know that if nothing else we've gotten the capitalist work ethic across to the benighted Afghans.
"Kabul Bank's boss has been handing out far bigger prizes to his country's U.S.-backed ruling elite: multimillion-dollar loans for the purchase of luxury villas in Dubai by members of President Hamid Karzai's family, his government and his supporters."
Joshua Foust at Registan has more. If we don't get that this is what helped kill us in Vietnam, in Iran, in many places in Central and South America, we'll never figure out a way past this stuff. This is a setup for fail on an epic central Asian scale.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Reflection of the State of US Strategic Thought?

Recently an essay by William Astore has received widespread distribution (thanks Charles for the heads up). The essay entitled American Blitzkrieg wishes to expose the dangerous fascination that the US military has had for all things to do with the pre-1945 German military.

Astore starts by describing his own adolescent fascination he had building models of German WWII tanks and aircraft and reading accounts of German military prowess. He relates how as a US Air Force cadet he participated on "Project X" type exercises which he was told had been first used by the Germans. He then attempts to make his own fascination general and then add to this a whole series of concepts or personalities which he sees as constituting a menacing "Cult of Clausewitz" which has led to the US military wanting to recreate the German magic and winning decisive victories, thinking due to their Clausewitzian pipe dreams that they can somehow mold war like clay. Along the way he ticks off a list of buzzwords which seemingly in his own mind constitute a rational argument.

This is simply the latest in a long history of such attempts to trash Clausewitz, but what makes it interesting is that it is by far the weakest and what it says about the state of strategic thinking in the US today. In my opinion it is a poster example of the confusion of US strategic thought common both among "progressives" and radical "conservatives", which essentially constitute the two political options available in the US today.

To start my critique of Astore's essay, let me isolate the comments he makes in regards to Carl von Clausewitz. This will indicate both the blatant irrationality of his argument and his highly questionable linking of specific concepts. While Mr. Astore is free to express his views and interpretations, his status as a teacher and former military instructor add unwarranted weight (in my view) to his conclusions and for that reason I feel obligated to speak out. The self-defeating confusion that such views could cause at this time in our nation's history is something best avoided.

Astore mentions Clausewitz on four occasions in the essay. By dealing with each in turn as they are presented in the essay I hope to indicate the weak and confused nature of his entire argument.

First quote:

As I began teaching military history to cadets at the Air Force Academy in 1990, I quickly became familiar with a flourishing “Cult of Clausewitz.” So ubiquitous was Carl von Clausewitz and his book On War that it seemed as if we Americans had never produced our own military theorists. I grew familiar with the way Auftragstaktik (the idea of maximizing flexibility and initiative at the lowest tactical levels) was regularly extolled. So prevalent did Clausewitz and Auftragstaktik become that, in the 1980s and 1990s, American military thinking seemed reducible to the idea that “war is a continuation of politics” and a belief that victory went to the side that empowered its “strategic corporals.”

Several points here. First, Astore links Clausewitz with the concept of Auftragstaktik. Which on the surface seems obvious enough, Clausewitz was a Prussian officer who spoke German and Auftragstaktik is a German word, the connection is clear, right? Not really, since the term never comes up in On War. In fact as the German military historian Robert M. Citino has written, the Auftragestaktik used by the Prussian/German Army is based on their feudal system and is quite different from the concept of Auftragstaktik used by the US military today:
In fact, defined in that way [the definition used by the US military] Auftragstaktik is completely mythological. The Germans hardly ever used the term when discussing issues of command. Rather, they spoke of the "independence of subordinate commanders" which is a very different thing.
Citino, The German Way of War, page 308.

So, two completely different concepts going under the same term, but obviously not connected with Clausewitz, since On War was very much a result of/reaction to the collapse of feudalism in the early modern period. It is interesting to note that the actual German concept allows for more discretion concerning subordinates than the current US one, which is something we did not pick up from the Germans.

Second, Astore mentions the "Cult of Clausewitz" without ever defining what exactly he means. Is it the non-influence of Clausewitz on Auftragstaktik? Rather it is simply guilt by association. Clausewitz the Prussian was German and German influence is something negative, thus "Cult of Clausewitz" without any substance of even an argument, let alone a cult.

The third point I wish to make here is a bit embarrassing for Astore since it indicates a stunning lack of knowledge in regards to what he is talking about. This concerns his comment, "as if we Americans had never produced our own military theorists." Two paragraphs down from this quote he denigrates "the so-called OODA loop -- the Air Force's version of Auftragstaktik". The OODA loop is the product of an American theorist, John Boyd, who had also hopelessly misunderstood Clausewitz, but that story will have to wait for now. Instead Astore (in his second mention of Clausewitz) consigns the OODA loop to

the Clausewitzian/German notion of war as a dialectical or creative art, one in which well-trained and highly-motivated leaders can impose their will on events. In this notional construct, war became not destructive, but constructive. It became not the last resort of kings, but the preferred recourse of “creative” warlords who demonstrated their mastery of it by cultivating such qualities as flexibility, adaptability, and quickness. One aimed to get inside the enemy’s “decision cycle,” the so-called OODA loop . . .

Amazing is it not? Astore chides the US military for ignoring American theorists, who he then goes on to ignore himself and then to link Boyd's work with the noxious "Cult of Clausewitz", the dubious and non-existent cult that Astore re-created and Boyd's theories were in fact suppose to be a response to. Boyd followed the interpretations of Basil Liddell Hart, who will come up again below.

But that is not all in connection with this second quote. Astore says that Clausewitz maintains that leaders "can impose their will on events", make history bend to their iron wills. I have studied On War for the last ten years, have read and re-read the book and have written papers on On War, but nowhere have I ever seen such a claim. In fact Clausewitz's whole approach is contrary to this crude interpretation.

Astore's third mention of Clausewitz begins:

Busts of Clausewitz reside in places of honor today at both the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and the National War College in Washington, D.C. Clausewitz was a complex writer, and his vision of war was both dense and rich, defying easy simplification. But that hasn’t stopped the U.S. military from simplifying him. Ask the average officer about Clausewitz, and he’ll mention “war as the continuation of politics” and maybe something about “the fog and friction of war” -- and that’s about it. What’s really meant by this rendition of Clausewitz for Dummies is that, though warfare may seem extreme, it’s really a perfectly sensible form of violent political discourse between nation-states.

Here he has changed track. Clausewitz is "both dense and rich, defying easy simplification", although he has just finished providing a misleading simplification himself, the same error he attempts to pin on the US military. So is Clausewitz "dense and rich" or a "cult"? Astore never tells us, although he does provide a link to Professor Christopher Bassford's Clausewitz website, to a page showing various busts of Clausewitz. Let me emphasize this - Astor provides not one example by a Clausewitzian scholar or theorist portraying or supporting the "cult" as he describes it, there's nothing in the essay, only Astore's rhetoric. At the same time, but linking directly to Bassford's site he implicates every current Clausewitzian scholar and theorist of note in his noxious cult.

He does go on to mention George S. Patton, the "warrior leader" which he links with the "idolization of the German military" and the "slow strangulation of the citizen-soldier ideal".

Had Astore actually read Clausewitz carefully, say, in Chapter 1 of Book 1 of On War, where he writes:

If wars between civilized nations are far less cruel and destructive than wars between savages, the reason lies in the social conditions of the states themselves and in their relationships to one another. These are the forces that give rise to war; the same forces circumscribe and moderate it. They themselves however are not part of war; they already exist before fighting starts. To introduce the principle of moderation into the theory of war itself would always led to logical absurdity.

he might have realized that political conditions influence wars and the military, not the other way around. The character of a political elite influences the types of wars they undertake along with the character of the war itself and the goals the military is forced to carry out. Blaming radical political decisions and irrational policies on the military, which is in effect what Astore is doing, lets the political elite in question off the hook. Notice also how the last sentence removes whatever bit of credibility to Astore's argument that Clausewitz thought that military leaders could control war. Once the war begins, the dynamic of interacting hostile wills takes over. The idea that Clausewitz thought that one side could control this interaction is ludicrous.

At this point, perhaps I should mention the one US general in World War II who was most influenced by Clausewitz. It is not the "warrior-leader" Patton or the "reluctant soldier-citizen" Omar Bradley, but Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, later President of the US and issuer of the "military-industrial complex" warning. In his book, Clausewitz in English, Christopher Bassford records Eisenhower's comment as to influences:
My immediate reaction is that I have had two definitely different lives, one military, the other political. From the military side, if I had to select one book, I think it would be On War by Clausewitz. On the civil government side, I think the most significant publication would be The History of the United States by George Bancroft.
pages 160-1.

Astore's next quote, although not containing Clausewitz by name, is clearly referring to his "cult":

No wonder that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld were so eager to go to war in Iraq in 2003. They saw themselves as the new masters of Blitzkrieg, the new warlords (or “Vulcans” to use a term popular back then), the inheritors of the best methods of German military efficiency.

Notice how effortlessly the "Clausewitz cult" merges with the radical Neo-conservative ("Vulcan") agenda, to the point that one wonders which is driving the other. This view, unfortunately for Astore, would require a quite different reality than what we have experienced. Clausewitzian theorists would be sought after to formulate neo-con policy and provide the intellectual planning weight to their imperial designs. So where exactly are these Clausewitzian think-tanks and institutes, along with the corresponding theorists pulling in the big $$$ associated with being the war-making cult of choice? The Global War on Terror is big money, so where's the beef?

The sad truth is that most Clasewitzian scholars or theorists are in a few military academic positions or in education, not formulating policy papers in well-connected think tanks. In fact I'm unaware of any think tank with a specifically Clausewitzian orientation - so much for the cult. The actual strategy notions popular presently are mostly anti-Clausewitzian, or mildly so, be they Boyd's followers, 4th Generation Warfare, Network Centric Warfare, or COIN. In fact Clausewitz's influence peeked in 1991 with the First Gulf War. With the publishing of Martin van Creveld's The Transformation of War, in 1991, Clausewitz lost most of his influence in the miltary, being dismissed as too "state-centric" or "Trinitarian Warfare". It was Creveld's book which was essentially "Clausewitz for dummies" while at the same time trashing Clausewitz.

During the run up to the actual invasion of Iraq all the talk was of Sun Tzu and John Boyd, whereas Clausewitz was equated with the defeated Iraq. Amazing how all of that has been so quickly forgotten, and Clausewitz emerges once again, only to be trashed.

On the other hand, and much more significantly Andrew Bacevich, Paul Yingling, HR MacMaster and Gian Gentile, who are either highly critical of US policy or military dissidents are all Clausewitzians or write approvingly of Clausewitz.

Back to Astore's essay and the next quote:

Reeling from a seemingly inexplicable and unimaginable defeat in Vietnam, the officer corps used Clausewitz to crawl out of its collective fog. By reading him selectively and reaffirming our own faith in military professionalism and precision weaponry, we tricked ourselves into believing that we had attained mastery over warfare. We believed we had tamed the dogs of war; we believed we had conquered Bellona, that we could make the goddess of war do our bidding.

We forgot that Clausewitz compared war not only to politics but to a game of cards. Call it the ultimate high-stakes poker match. Even the player with the best cards, the highest stack of chips, doesn’t always win. Guile and endurance matter. So too does nerve, even luck. And having a home-table advantage doesn’t hurt either.

Confusing once again, who is at fault? Was Clausewitz the problem, as in "cult" or the cure? Clausewitz provides many definitions for war including likening it to a game of cards, due to the universality of chance in war, but if that is the case, how could we have thought we had "tamed the dogs of war"? Was it not the responsibility of military instructors like Astore to make sure this mistake did not happen? Still his presentation of Clausewitz is selective and shows Clausewitz seeing war as a game that generals play, but that is not the case. Rather than comparing war to politics, Clausewitz has war's subordination to politics as one of the fundamental elements of his remarkable trinity of war, that is the elements that all wars in history share in common. Astore's inclusion of "precision weaponry" in the mix is also hard to explain since Clausewitz had very little to say about technological innovation and considering that On War was first published in 1832. The actual reason for the reemergence of Clausewitz after the Vietnam War is due to a variety of factors of which Harry Sommers's analysis of that defeat is but one. Perhaps the main reason is the work of certain anti-Nazi German exiles (Alfred Vagts, Otto Jolles, Hans Rothfels and Herbert Rosinski) who developed Clausewitz's ideas during the 1920s-50s, but that would hardly fit in Astore's scheme of things.

Finally there is this last quote:

Unlike a devastated and demoralized Germany after its defeats, we decided not to devalue war as an instrument of policy after our defeat, but rather to embrace it. Clasping Clausewitz to our collective breasts, we marched forward seeking new decisive victories. Yet, like our role models the Germans of World War II, we found victory to be both elusive and illusive.

Here Clausewitz finally emerges as the problem once again. Clausewitz being associated with the idea that war can be an instrument of policy. This is one of the most common misreadings of Clausewitz. For instance, we learn in Chapter 2 of Book II that war begins when the defenders resists. The aggressor as Clausewitz tells us is more than willing to take what he wants without war. Since there are always two sides in war, for the defender war remains a legitimate policy choice, or is Astore going to preclude that?

The last point I wish to bring up is the concept of "decisive battle". Clausewitz is equated with this for a reason, he writes approvingly of seeking decisive battle numerous times in On War. One reason for this is that he is in a sort of dialogue with other theorists of his time, Heinrich von Bülow for one, who wrote that maneuver and the establishment of a "base of operations" were the essence of battle - actual combat could be avoided. For Clausewitz, war is organized violence and fighting is the very essence of war, so at times he feels the need to stress this point, to make it clear what war is in fact about. This along with the fact that Napoleon had been able to achieve decisive results, although Clausewitz doubted this would be true for all future wars.

Still, our focus on decisive battle has little to do with Clausewitz and much to do with history and the way it is taught. Starting in the Victorian age, British historians focused on "decisive battles" as explaining how history was formed by great leaders or "captains". This emphasis on "great captains" was also favored by Basil Liddell Hart, who also claimed authorship of the concept of Blitzkrieg, claiming to have influenced the Germans during the 1930s with his writings extolling the military methods of the Mongols. True to form, Hart attacked Clausewitz in simplistic terms attempting to pin on him the guilt for the bloodbaths of the First World War. In fact due to its sinmplicity, it would be hard to believe that Hart's book on strategy wasn't more widely read and understood by US military officers than On War.

In Conclusion, Astor's essay is but the latest in a long line of attempts to trash Clausewitz. That it is so crudely formulated and emotional in its presentation indicates to me that it is addressed at an audience who is either prone to think negatively of the military, of Clausewitz, of foreign influences or a combination of the three. It is not meant to inform in my opinion, but to appeal to prejudices and only serves to reinforce negative and self-defeating divisions in American society. The changes that have taken place in the US military since the 1980s reflect not the negative influence of Clausewitz, or German military history, but rather the changes that have taken place in American society as a whole.

Contrary to Astore's view, Clauewitzian strategic theory has been a basis for our civilian control of the military. The operation of our own National Security Council is based on the Clausewitzian concept of strategy formulation. The problem began, as Professor Hew Strachan has argued, when we allowed these instututions to become subverted by the previous administration. This would include the willful subversion of our intelligence services to provide the executive with excuses for policies that had already been decided upon.

Contrary to Astore's view, Clausewitzian strategic theory provides a basis for useful analysis in regards to what has been carried out in the name of the American people for the last nine years. While it may be in the interests of the imperial or war party to dismiss Clausewitz based on crude arguments, it is surely not in the interest of progressive and traditional conservative interests to do so.

Our current political reality in the US comes down to very basic political questions as to what sort of society we wish to be. We focus on distractions in order to avoid these questions, which we do at our own peril.

Post Script-

The only thing I wish to add is an emphasis on John Boyd, who surprisingly is not mentioned in connection with the OODA Loop, instead that being associated with the "Clausewitz cult". So is there, or has there been a cult? I would point out that in the distant past - all the way back in 2003, if anybody can dimly remember back that far, the cult if any was associated with John Boyd, who according to the hagiography of Robert Coram had "changed the art of war" itself. Boyd's ideas where seen everywhere in 2003:

In all that time, in all that glut of information, I've yet to hear any coherent explanation of U.S. fighting doctrine, strategy, or tactics, especially with any reference whatsoever to the man who very clearly (to my mind) laid out that doctrine and those tactics, just as he did in Gulf War I. That would be John Boyd.

With two teeny, tiny exceptions. Last week the Navy League sponsored its annual Sea-Air-Space Exposition at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. On April 16, Army Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the exposition's luncheon gathering (I didn't go, but I heard it that evening on C-SPAN radio driving home from Pax). In the course of his talk Myers mentioned how we had gotten "inside Iraq's decision cycle." That's Army-speak for the OODA Loop. And he mentioned "maneuver warfare."

The next day, April 17, the luncheon speaker was Adm. Vern Clark, the CNO himself. In his talk I actually heard him say the "O" words, "OODA Loop."

Not only do I think it is quite clear John Boyd's theories and tactics "designed" the conduct of GWII, I also think a great deal of the criticism of the war's tactics, especially in its early days, stemmed from the fact that few people understood Boyd's (and the Pentagon's) doctrine, and nobody bothered to explain it after it was over, when it would do no harm to say, "Look, this is what we did and why we did it."

The most famous point of contention occurred when critics (some "armchair" critics and some former and current Army generals) blasted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for "not sending enough troops" to Iraq. Close behind was all the brou-ha-ha over the ballyhooed "Shock and Awe" campaign that never happened.

Boyd's theories spend a good deal of time talking about using psychological weapons ?"psy-ops" in the modern parlance ? to break the enemy's morale even before the battle begins. In retrospect it now seems reasonably clear that all the pre-war talk about launching a Shock-and-Awe campaign that would bomb Baghdad "back to the Stone Age" (to use a Vietnam-ism) using 5,000 Tomahawk missiles and "smart-bombs" was pure psy-ops.

How was this possible? As everyone knew who had followed Boyd's thought at time, Boyd had powerful people among his closest followers. As Coram explained in an interview:

Boyd met all of the above when he was the leader, the spiritual leader, if you will, of the reform movement. Dick Cheney, then a young congressman from Wyoming, heard his briefing, then had a number of one-on-one sessions with Boyd. When Cheney became secretary of defense, he was rare in that he knew more about strategy than most of his generals did. He called Boyd out of retirement in the early days of the Gulf war, and from him got an updating, if you will. And it was Boyd`s strategy, not Schwarzkopf`s, that led to our swift and decisive victory in the Gulf war.

The vice president, Cheney, gave me about 30 minutes to talk about Boyd. And on television, he seems very reserved and controlled, but when he talked to me about John Boyd, he was enthusiastic, and I could tell he had great respect for this man.

Cheney knew more about strategy than most of his generals. That was the view among the war party in 2003, that being based on his close association with John Boyd who "had changed the art of war". Cheney of course had his own followers within the military who were also praising Boyd:

"John Boyd was a thinker ahead of his time," said retired Gen. Michael Dugan, who was chief of staff of the Air Force during the buildup to the first Persian Gulf war. "Without giving him a lot of credit, the U.S. military is following his ideas."

The Marine Corps was also heavily influenced by Boyd:

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf had presented Cheney with a plan for a head-on offensive. "Not only did Cheney reject it, he used Boyd's colorful language to do so," wrote Boyd's biographer, Robert Coram.

As vice president, Cheney exerts considerable influence on strategy in Iraq as one of President Bush's inner circle of war advisers. But the most significant convert may have been Gray, who first heard Boyd's briefings as a colonel. Later, as commander of the Second Marine Division, and later still as commandant of the Marine Corps, Gray was in a position to implement Boyd's ideas about "maneuver warfare."

Their first combat test came in Grenada in 1983. They passed.

"We've got two companies of Marines running all over the island, and thousands of Army troops doing nothing," an Army general was quoted as saying at the time. "What the hell is going on?"

Pentagon analyst Franklin "Chuck" Spinney, Boyd's closest associate for many years, said, "The Marines [later] used Boyd's tactics in the first Gulf war, and they worked like gangbusters."

My point is if there is "a cult" associated with the military adventures of the Bush administration, it has nothing to do with Clauewitz. Rather, the most influential theorist in the period of US military history Astore is talking about is probably John Boyd. Boyd of course followed Liddell Hart's flawed interpretation of Clausewitz and never really was able to link political purpose to military strategic effect. His emphasis was on tactics and technique, which has remained the case up to now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

How to Fail...or not...

There are three kinds of fail.
The classic failure.
The basic failure.
And of course, the all time favorite
the Epic Failure!

Now to classically fail, all you have to do is go out and just do something that hasn't worked before, say it's a great idea anyway, and defend it as if it were the holy grail itself.

The basic failure is simpler even still, and that entails just doing something which has no chance in hell of ever working no matter how much energy or effort is front loaded into it.

But the epic that is a leap of such stupendous stupidity, ignorance, and just plain bad judgment that it leaves sages speechless, mothers fainting in despair, and shocked onlookers mesmerized by the horrendous mess that your effort has left behind.

I hope to G-d in heaven that Obama eschews these fails, and wisely considers all those promises he made on the campaign trail...because brother Obama, you are so close to dancing with the devil that it unnerves me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Strategic Theory: The Distinction Between "The Operation", "an operation" and "Local Battle"

German soldiers, 1917, on the Verdun front

Today the news is full of the current offensive in Afghanistan. The town of Marjah is target and the battle is being proclaimed as a "turning point" with Marjah described as the Taliban's Alamo. With all the hyperbole, conflicting information and the lack of any information from the other side, how to make sense of what is going on? Strategic theory offers an option in the distinction between "operation" and "local battle".

Clausewitz's general theory and approach to strategic theory has had several significant theorists who have further developed his general theory and expanded it in significant ways. Aleksandr Svechin, who served as first a Czarist Army and General Staff officer and later as a commander in the Red Army, is perhaps the most significant Clausewitzian theorist of the first half to the 20th Century. In his classic, Strategy, Svechin writes:

The Operation and Local Battles

Thinkers who still live by the remnants of the Napoleonic era are inclined to write operation with a capital 'O'. Ludendorff dreamed of such an Operation in the World War: he would have called the attack on Vilna and Minsk in the middle summer of 1915 an Operation; however, Ludendorff did not call the Tarnopol breakthrough in 1917 in response to the Kerensky offensive an Operation, because for this breakthrough to grow into an Operation, according to Ludendorff it would have had to continue to the Black Sea and in the process cut off and take prisoner most of the Southwest Front and all of the Romanian Front. The French have thought in the same vein: they are prepared to use the term Operation for the Lorraine attack, which was planned for November 14, 1918, but was never carried out because of the armistice, and in their fantasies was supposed to cut off and encircle major German forces in Belgium.

In accordance with our notions of modern reality, we do not spell 'operation' with a Capital 'O' and have emphasized in the title of this section [An Operation with a Limited Goal], the limited goals of an operation; nevertheless we consider it necessary to make a definite distinction between operations that achieve an intermediate goal on the way to the end of military operations and local battles.

An operation does not go beyond the general combination of efforts for achieving the ultimate goal of the war because the results of one operation are the conditions in which strategy plans the next phase of the armed conflict, while actions that have no effect on the subsequent course of the war are purely local. If they acquire a large enough scale (such as the Japanese expedition to Sakhalin in the summer of 1905 or the English colonial conquests in the World War and so forth), we are amenable to calling them local operations. Such actions often pursue the goal of occupying favorable diplomatic and economic positions in concluding a peace.

Any kind of operation has its costs, and the organizer of an operation seeks to cut these costs. Local battles are two-sided costs of an armed conflict; the more disorganized the front is the higher the costs will be. Partisan warfare, although it is the embodiment of a lack of organization, is capable of greatly raising the cost of war for the enemy. Of course, higher costs are capable of defeating any undertaking; we have made this remark to avoid the accusation that we have a low regard for partisan warfare.

Insofar as we try to achieve positive goals, an operation is an incomparably more economical way of expending military force than local battles. Soldiers are very capable of seeing the difference between operational rationalism and operational shoddiness and are much more eager to sacrifice themselves when they feel that they are on the way to achieving the ultimate goal of a war. Commanders who abuse local battles themselves give evidence of the poverty of their operational talents. What may be completely impossible on a local scale or will require incommensurate sacrifices may be achieved incidentally and much less expensively on an operational scale . . .

Svechin is talking about operations for limited goals. The war in mind is a war of attrition, where the first battles were inconclusive, the war continues. He makes the distinction clear: an operation is a rational step in achieving the larger political goal of the war, in effect setting the stage for the next step or operation which in turn sets the stage for the next. The strategist uses operations to achieve the means to the political goal. A local battle, on the other hand, is simply that, a tactical conflict aimed at physical destruction of the enemy and unconnected from the operational/strategic sequence. The "operational" phase of a local battle lasts as long as surprise is in effect, at which point the battle becomes wholly tactical. Svechin says that in many of the French World War I offensives from 1915 on, surprise was considered unnecessary in comparison to the need to stockpile massive amounts of munitions and range their artillery, thus giving the Germans plenty of warning of what was coming. The battles were seen as being the first part of massive gains, of essentially the complete defeat of the enemy in a single "Operation" as Svechin describes them, but in reality lead to nothing beyond the achievement of limited tactical objectives. These objectives divorced from the operational sequence, but aiding in attrition of the enemy's combat strength. This explains why Svechin finds local battles to be uneconomical in terms of military resources.

So, a big "O""Operation" is essentially fantasy, whereas an "operation" is part of a strategic sequence, while a "local battle" is tactical (as in not only its focus, but also as not being part of a larger strategy) or even "tactics gone mad".

Verdun is a classic example of a local battle that grew to tremendous tactical proportions, became what Svechin refers to as a Materialschlacht which in effect is war/battle as an industrial process. The subject of Verdun rates a separate thread so I'll leave that for now.

So, the question from a strategic theory perspective is - is Marjah an "Operation", an operation, or a local battle? In the case of Marjah there was no surprise involved since logistical requirements (and internal political considerations) precluded it. The attack was essentially announced in advance. It is tauted as the beginning of the end for the Taliban in Helmand province, but the political resources which the Afghan state would have to provide do not seem to exist. If there is no political follow-up - as in Counterinsurgency warfare theory - there is little hope for eventual success. Some say, "we'll have to wait and see" meaning wait for something good to happen, but that only indicates the lack of any strategy at all. To be an operation this attack would have to be part of a whole sequence of operational steps leading to the achievement of the strategic goal.

On the other hand, the Marjah offensive could be simply a military action in support of diplomacy, that is the US/NATO negotiation process to remove themselves from the conflict, in effect leaving the Afghan state to its own devices. Up till now the Taliban have been operating/negotiating from a position of political strength. By presenting them with a military defeat in Marjah, the US/NATO side turns the tables on the Taliban and allows themselves a better position in which to bargain. This would be part of a larger strategy and would qualify as an operation. An operation meant to help cover a strategic withdrawal, or a radical reformulation of the political purpose as presented to the various US/NATO publics.

Marjah is just the latest in a series of "decisive battles" presented to the public. An earlier one, the second battle of Fallujah in Iraq, was presented in the same way. It kicked off right after the November 2004 US elections and lasted into December. On my last thread, bg commented:

I've been reading about the ongoing "assault", said to be the biggest offensive in the war. At first glance, it sounds kind of silly, but it reminds me a lot of Fallujah. Say what you want, the Marines did an excellent job in Fallujah, no COIN there, that was classic street fighting and was executed beautifully with tactical deception and solid TTPs. And it did make a difference in the fight in the Western desert. It was a turning point and IMO eventually led to setting the conditions that allowed the politicians to claim victory and leave.

Second Fallujah qualifies as a Materialschlacht, that is a local battle grown to huge proportions. It followed a huge logistics buildup and massive use of ordinance and commenced with little surprise. The tactical approach here reflected an industrial process rather than the "speed, cleverness, concealment, and tricks" which Svechin associates with the normal tactical approach. Concerning one Marine Corps tank company, its commander stated in regards to Fallujah, "My company has fired close to 1,600 main gun rounds, over 121,000 7.62mm and 49,000 .50 caliber rounds." An after action report of infantry house clearing stated, "To send Marines in to clear an enemy-occupied structure without heavy preparation fires was tantamount to suicide . . . Whenever we located an enemy position that needed to be cleared, we used a combination of rockets, tanks and bulldozers to destroy the structure." Thomas Ricks, Fiasco, pp 403-4)

Imo Fallujah constitutes a classic local battle victory for the US, but a US operational defeat in that the knock-on effects were used by the opposition to thwart the US's larger strategic/political goals. The laying waste to a Sunni city did nothing to popularize the Allawi government to the Sunni population who boycotted the January 2005 elections. This in turn led to a continued unraveling of what little remained of any combined Iraqi consensus. The result has been the destruction of the Iraqi middle class as it existed prior to 2003, the ethic cleansing of Baghdad and other cities, the repression of various minority groups and Iraqi women (who enjoyed a relatively high status in the Middle East prior to 2003), and the triumph of Iranian interests in the new Iraq. The current result is a strategic win for Iran - which undoubtedly influences their actions today - and a strategic defeat for the US.

So contrary to the implied conclusion of bg's comment, the US should hope that Marjah is something quite different from Second Fallujah.

Hegemon's Dilemma

"As his troubles waxed, he became increasingly authoritarian and unapproachable, content to be set apart. (American general X) was not the only one who had difficulty making an appointment. Officials waited weeks to see him... By keeping rivals off balance through a technique of "fear and favor"...he appeared strong and indispensable, but he did not know how to make a government...his mind was narrow and his education limited.""His most serious handicap was the lack of competent government servants. He never allowed a really able man to reach an important post lest he become too strong. Because he made loyalty rather than ability the criterion of service he was surrounded by mediocrities.""The (ruling coalition) never succeeded in really uniting the country. Aware that the past had left too many pockets of doubtful loyalty, (he) could not trust all his armies. The opportunity for social change passed him by. Dependent more than ever on the (warlords)...he could not afford to antagonize them by reform measures. He governed by survival and ignored what he wanted to ignore. As a chief of a system without an exit he was, as (American general X) wrote, "in a hell of a fix.""The (U.S.) President could see no alternative to support for the (foreign leader). Fearing a vacuum after the defeat of (the enemy power) and repeatedly advised that only (foreign leader) could hold (the country) together, he gave him support in the form of a blank check. He was continually warned by (the country's) friends, who from sincere or self-interested motives wanted to get aid to (the country), that any slackening of support would lead to the collapse of the (capital city) government.""In a typical alarm of this kind, Dr. (conservative leader) of the (large conservative political organization), informed the President that (the country's) morale was "deteriorating rapidly", the "defeatist element was gaining support" and "danger grows of (the leader's) losing power and of a compromise between the (foreign country) and (the enemy power)." this Rajiv Chandrasekaran writing about Hamid Karzai and the Marjeh Offensive, 2010, or Barbara Tuchman writing about Chiang Kai-shek and the fall of Burma, 1942?

(Cross-posted from GFT)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Current Crisis in US Counterinsurgency: The Movie

I'm not trying to mock seydlitz here. I thought of this, enjoy the humor, and it seems to me that the methods of our present dealings with the inhabitants of southcentral Asia are about as sensible as the centurion's here.

As Ael says:
"Trying to figure a rational way to win the Afghan civil war without intending to own Afghanistan at the end is a pointless exercise. That the USA is actually trying to do this tells you that the motivation for the war has nothing to do with Afghanistan and everything to do with the great game being fought in Washington. Look at the cost of the war versus the Afghan GDP."
We are fighting for tactics and details and completely missing the point.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sadly noted

For those of us from the old Intel Dump, via Greenwald:
"Several months ago, the excellent Obama Pentagon aide in charge of detention policy -- former Army Capt. Philip Carter -- abruptly resigned shortly after the administration announced it would indefinitely detain many Guantanamo detainees and send others to military commissions: policies which Capt. Carter long opposed when embraced by Bush (though it's unclear whether there was a causal connection between those policies and his resignation). As Spencer Ackerman reports today, the administration has now replaced Capt. Carter: with Col. William Lietzau, who -- as Ackerman put it -- "previously served as a special adviser to Jim Haynes, the top Pentagon lawyer during Donald H. Rumsfeld’s tenure, when Rumsfeld and Haynes codified torture and indefinite detention as hallmarks of Bush-era terrorism policy" (h/t Jim White). Given that Obama's top "terrorism adviser" was a Bush-era CIA official who cheered for various torture and rendition policies, and given that Obama detention policies are so closely modeled after the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld approach (indefinite detention, military commissions, denial of habeas corpus, renditions), this is both an unsurprising and an appropriate choice for that position.

Bush officials who helped design the torture and detention regime aren't prosecuted or even held accountable under Obama. Instead, they're hired, empowered, relied upon and promoted."
Change? Hope? WTF?


Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Current Crisis in US Counterinsurgency

Current Counterinsurgency Warfare or "COIN" has been going through something of a crisis recently, especially among its supporters. Zenpundit kicked off this period of Existenzangst with his post of 25 January, The Postcoin Era is Here, which initiated a whole series of responses, including this one which I think representative, The Zen of Coin.

To me the crisis reflects much deeper issues. Some of these have to do with the contradictions between the actual theory of Counterinsurgency Warfare as developed by David Galula, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which are presented to the American people as counterinsurgencies (from our perspective) but are not. This confusion in strategic theory and strategy in turn feeds the political confusion on the US side. What is sorely missing is a honest disclosure of what our actual political purposes are and the best way seen to achieve them.

In 1964, a professional French Army officer named David Galula had published a short, but first-rate book on strategic theory entitled Counterinsurgency Warfare. Galula's conclusion based on his own experiences in Greece, Indochina, China and Algeria, was that to be successful against Revolutionary Warfare (read Maoist-influenced strategies of insurgency), the established state would have to adopt a specific form of warfare based on the realities of this type of conflict, or "counterinsurgency warfare". Galula's approach while very coherent and compatible with Clausewitz's general theory, is specific to a certain political context and thus limited in applicability since the strengths and weaknesses he ascribes to each side refer to this specific political context.

For instance, let us consider this extract from Galula's classic Counterinsurgency Warfare:

Primacy of the Political over the Military Power

That the political power is the undisputed boss is a matter of both principle and practicality. What is at stake is the country's political regime, and to defend it is a political affair. Even if this requires military action, the action is constantly directed towards a political goal. Essential though it is, the military action is secondary to the political one, its primary purpose being to afford the political power enough freedom to work safely with the population.

The armed forces are but one of the many instruments of the counterinsurgent, and what is better than the political power to harness the non-military instruments, to see the appropriations come at the right time to consolidate the military work, that political and social reforms follow through?

"A revolutionary war is 20% military action and 80% political" is a formula that reflects the truth. Giving the soldier authority over the civilian would thus contradict one of the major characteristics of this type of war. In practice, it would inevitably tend to reverse the relative importance of military versus political action and move the counterinsurgent's warfare closer to a conventional one. Were the armed forces the instrument of a party and their leaders high-ranking members of the party, controlled and assisted by political commissars having their own direct channel to the party's central direction, then giving complete authority to the military might work; however, this describes the general situation of the insurgent, not of his opponent.

It would also be self-defeating, for it would mean that the counterinsurgent government had acknowledged a signal defeat: Unable to cope with the insurgency through normal government structures, it would have abdicated in favor of the military, who, at once, become the prime and easy target of the insurgent propaganda. It would be a miracle if, under these circumstances, the insurgent did not succeed in divorcing the soldier from the nation.

The inescapable conclusion is that the over-all responsibility should stay with the civilian power at every possible level. If there is a shortage of trusted officials, nothing prevents filling the gap with military personnel serving in a civilian capacity. If worst comes to the worst, the fiction, at least, should be preserved.
pages 62-63

Galula of course is referring to the political leadership of the state under siege by the insurgency, not an outside power. His assumption is that the local government will enjoy initially (prior to the advent of the insurgency) a certain amount of legitimacy in the eyes of the people it supposedly represents. The insurgency will also not be part of the government, or a former government, but totally separate from it. We can see that putting the conduct of war, not in the hands of the local government, but in the hands of an occupying foreign military would be something that Galula would not consider as belonging to counterinsurgency warfare, but something else entirely. Having the military direct the entire process, and that military being a foreign occupation army, would be beyond even his warning of domestic military control of the counterinsurgency effort, which he describes as something "so dangerous to be resisted at all costs".

This brings us to the question as to whether Galula's theory is applicable to say the current struggle in Afghanistan and Pakistan at all. I would say it is, but not in anything like the way it is presented by or among supporters of that war or COIN.

Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited India and Pakistan in an attempt to shore up support for US actions in Afghanistan. Juan Cole provides some interesting commentary and numerous links on the trip here: Gates Strikes Out . . .

Gates came under fire in Pakistan for seemingly admitting that Blackwater - now renamed "Xe" - is currently operating in Pakistan, as well as a series of other gaffs. The US is currently pursuing quite incompatible policy aims attempting both to bring India into the Afghan mix while assuming whole-hearted Pakistani support.

Seen from a strategic theory perspective and taking the interests of the two sides in consideration, it would seem that Pakistan and their ISI-supported Taliban allies are more the "counterinsurgents" in this conflict currently encompassing both Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the US/NATO are more the "insurgents", but with few of the strengths Galula would associate with the insurgency. Consider that the Taliban/ISI/Pakistani (T/I/P) side is leading with their political operations, limiting military action to the 20% that Galula suggests, whereas the US/NATO side is very much military heavy. Galula warns that the counterinsurgency should never attempt to negotiate except from a position of strength - which the T/I/P side is now doing, to include sending a Taliban delegation to the London Conference.

To reinforce this view, both Generals Petraeus and McCrystal spoke out in January, Petraeus saying, "The concept of reconciliation, of talks between senior Afghan officials and senior Taleban or other insurgent leaders, perhaps involving some Pakistani officials as well, is another possibility."

McCrystal told the Financial Times, "As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there's been enough fighting. What I think we do is try to shape conditions which allow people to come to a truly equitable solution to how the Afghan people are governed." Signaling weakness, war weariness and the willingness to negotiate from a position of weakness are all characteristics of an insurgency on the verge of collapse.

The Taliban response was predictable:

. . . They nurture this childish and ridiculous notion to subjugate the people of Afghanistan and impose on them the ideology of unbelief. This is because the invaders are not able to think and ponder sagaciously. They propose asylum for a person, whose order every honor-loving individual of the nation, obeys as a religious obligation. It is the cherished hope of every committed Afghan to be in the stronghold of martyrdom and sacrifice in order to comply with the order of the leader.

The fundamental solution of the tragedy of Afghanistan lies in withdrawal of the invading forces from Afghanistan. They should ponder over ways to save thousands from the strong resistance of the Mujahid people of Afghanistan rather than consider suggestions of asylum-seeking for the leaders of Jihad or participation in the puppet government.

The invading foreigners should pull out of the occupied Afghanistan immediately so that those who deserve, should receive their due rights. They should let the Afghans and their true leadership to live in an atmosphere of prosperity, security and fraternity, following establishment of an independent Islamic system in the country.

Following Galula, the counterinsurgent must shatter the political cohesion of the insurgency through a mixture of both political and military action, with the last stage of the counterinsurgency being step 8, "Win over or suppress the last insurgent remnants", page 56.

My purpose here is not so much to make a political point, or to describe the current US political/military confusion, but rather to use Galula's theory to perhaps shed some light on the current reality of the Afghan war.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Perhaps not so quiet and not so professional...

When I was a little teeny privvit back in the 1980's I wanted to be Special Forces so bad it hurt. I didn't have what it took: I bolo'ed two patrols in Phase I, got recycled, lost my motivation and just frankly pussied out - "DOR'ed", or "dropped on request".(That's me, BTW, standing behind SFC Harris in the GI-issue birth control glasses. To this day - 29 years later, I can still remember my drill sergeants, SFC Raymond Harris and SSG Ricardo Layne. Just curious - anybody of the other enlisted scum here still recall their hats from BCT?)

I'm not proud of what I did in SFQC, but I'm not ashamed, either. I tried as hard as I could - at the time, still being young and unformed - and when I ended up in the 82nd Airborne I became a sergeant and a good one. I served as well as I could. I trained my troops to survive, and to be the best aidmen they could be.On the other had, it sounds like these Special Forces guys didn't serve nearly as well as THEY should have:
"...shooting at targets down range while Afghans are standing right next to the targets, to screaming obscenities at them, calling them “fucktards,” and inflicting group punishment because they couldn’t master the “load, unload” drill..."
One thing I liked about the idea of SF back in the day was the concept that they were this immense force multiplier. You parachuted a dozen guys and a pantsload of gear into some trackless wilderness and after six months you had an entire little army, a native Mike Force led by the GIs ready to take on the local enemies on their own ground.

But it becomes increasingly apparent that the Charlie Beckwith/Special Air Service camorra have completely captured the Army SF community. Our "Special" Forces are now just a bunch of door-kickers with fancy hats. That's NOT what I enlisted to be. In that respect, my then-failure looks better with time. I'm glad I didn't live to be the First Sergeant of an SF-ODB that runs a bunch of glorified SWAT teams.

And what's even sadder?
"These SF guys are supposed to be the ones who know how to operate outside the big bases with the local population, but did you notice where they live? On a big box FOB, isolated and removed from their Afghan charges which is obvious, because none of them spoke a word of Dari or Pashto. They are good troops being poorly served by commanders who keep them isolated and removed from the people they are supposed to be protecting. They will never be able to gain the situational awareness required to do real COIN if they remain confined to the Big Box FOBs."
Go and read all of it.It makes me kinda sad and kinda mad, and I say that as the guy who back in 1981 loved the Special Forces and wanted that beautiful 1st Group flash on his green hat more than he wanted to have wild monkey sex with Debra Winger AND Jamie Lee Curtis.

(Crossposted from GFT)